Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ashes to ashes

Last year a 52-year-old attorney in this area died suddenly in an automobile collision. His obituary was so moving that I saved a screen-cap of it on my computer. I came across it again a few minutes ago and wanted to share a portion of it with you:

"Since the hour of death cannot be forecast, the family requests that in lieu of flowers, you spend time with your loved ones--go to a movie together, get ice cream, go out to dinner or to breakfast or have a picnic in the park and tell them that you love them every day."

Isn't that beautiful? What wonderful words those are to reflect the values of someone who loved life.

Anyway, reading that again set me to wondering: do you ever think about your own funeral?

You younger readers may find this topic morbid (I'm sure my daughters do), but I'll bet those of you nearer my own age have given it some thought. I thought about it quite a bit when I first retired, mostly because my diet back then (eat as much as you want of whatever you want) was making me sick. I did come to a few conclusions:

I want to be cremated. That's for sure. And I don't want the funeral home to make one more dime off of my dead body than is absolutely essential. One reason I don't want to be buried is that I hate making wardrobe decisions and don't want anyone to have to do that on my behalf. I don't know how it's been in your family, but for some reason the tradition in my family has been to bury the women in beautiful nightclothes, as if they're going to Heaven to sleep, and to bury the men in suits, as if they'll have business to tend to on the other side of the Pearly Gates. What's the deal with that? I certainly wouldn't want to be buried in my nightgown, but being buried in casual clothing doesn't seem appropriate, and I have no interest in getting all gussied up in the kind of fancy dress I rarely wear anymore. Nope, cremation it is.

I haven't figured out where I'd like my ashes to be scattered. Really, anyplace with a lot of trees would be fine. I know am pretty sure that the spirit of the deceased isn't locked into the human remains and that my own spirit will stay near my daughters to watch over them like a guardian angel if that's at all possible. I think it is possible because my grandmother visited me after she died and my late mother rides along with me almost everywhere I go. What I'm trying to say is that it doesn't matter too much to me where my ashes end up, because I don't expect to be there with them. But, if my daughters decide they need a particular patch of earth where they can visit me, they can bury the ashes if they want to.

The idea of burial--even of ashes--raises the issue of money again. Burial plots are expensive. Accordingly, I have an idea for a compromise. There's a beautiful new cemetery a few miles down the road from where I live. Its offices are in a lovely antebellum home that used to be owned by a doctor, and its neatly trimmed grounds are shaded with live oak trees. It wouldn't be a bad place to be buried, but I'd be surprised if it isn't some of the most costly real estate around here. I've jokingly suggested to my daughters that, if they feel they need a grave to visit, they visit that cemetery, look around, pick out an existing grave that seems nice to them, and remember the name on the tombstone. Later, they can make a second visit to that gravestone--it would probably be a nice touch to take some flowers--and surreptitiously sprinkle my ashes in the grass right there. They could visit whenever they wanted and save a lot of money in the bargain.

I don't especially want a traditional funeral, either, but a small memorial service would be nice. I realize that the presence of friends and family at some sort of ceremony provides comfort--and a small measure of closure--to those left behind. During that period of ill health I referred to above, I even picked out some songs that I'd like to be played at my memorial service. I chose the songs for different reasons: a) I love them; or b) there's a message in there somewhere; and c) they're beautiful enough that my family will probably enjoy them and remember them, but it's not likely anyone will hear these songs on the radio at random times and unexpectedly feel sad again. (I had intended to make a CD of those songs, but then I started feeling a whole lot better and haven't had time to get around to it. Putting that on my to-do list now.)

I know everybody has different ideas about this subject, but people rarely talk about it, and I'm curious. So, if you've thought about things like this, are you willing to share those thoughts? If so, you can do it in a comment here, or, if you want to turn it into a blog post of your own, how about leaving a comment to let us know where to look for it?


  1. You have the right idea about remains of the day when you are gone.

    I about peed my pants when that snake came out of my Blue Bird house. I guess he went in there and ate the birds or eggs and then rested. The Jay was trying to run him off and stuck his head in the box...wrong move as the snake must have grabbed him. I had to get Larry to come to my rescue!

    I have another video of Larry trying to get him from the house as he ran back in. But Larrys calls the snake a 'dumb ass' so I did not know if it would be appropriate for the Blog world? What do you think?

  2. I have thought about it a lot and I think I'll blog about it tomorrow. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Sister-Three, I definitely think you should post that video. I don't think "dumb ass" would be shocking to anybody, and most people would probably say much worse than that under the same circumstances.

    I linked to your post from my Facebook page to share it with my friends and family. Hope that's OK with you.

    Holly, I'll look forward to reading your post.

  4. Anyone is welcome to link to it. It was awful tho...might want to post a warming if folks are prone to heart failure. Teehee

  5. Sister-Three I saw that post on FB. I was expecting some other kind of bird to pop out and when that snake came out I almost jumped out of my chair!!

    Linda: This subject has been much on my mind. Needless to say my kids don't even want to listen to me so I explained as much as could to my youngest daughter. I do want to be cremated but I want my ashes to be buried near my mother, father and brother in CT. I don't think my children will much want to visit a grave and I'd like to be where I was brought up. I guess that's the only way I'm going to get to leave this hot, hot, hot state. (Texas).

  6. I think about it frequently enough that I keep telling myself to write down my wishes and make sure everyone knows where to find them. Of course, I keep forgetting to do it. I wish computers had a reminder feature where the first thing that comes up on the screen is a list of things to do-not the "what to get at the store" list, but the important things that we procrastinate about.

    I want to be cremated, like you I don't see the point in spending thousands of dollars on a casket. There's a plot available if I want it, but I think I'd rather be blowin' in the wind. ;-)

    My mom's mother wanted to be buried in a nightgown so my mom had to go shopping to find a nice one for her. I wouldn't put anyone through that. And if I were to be buried, I'd want to be buried in my sweatpants, which might scandalize relatives-another reason against a funeral visitation and burial. My dad was buried in a suit over my objections, but I did win on his footwear-his beat-up, paint splattered slippers. Nobody outside the immediate family saw them, so that was OK with Mom. I just thought it was bad enough that he was buried wearing a tie, which he hated.

    I've often told my sister to cremate me and use the life insurance money to go to Hawaii and have a vacation-and toss my ashes in the ocean while she's at it. Yup, I really MUST write down my last instructions!

  7. Nan16, I understand completely the longing to end up where you began. I've thought about requesting that my ashes be scattered in Missouri, but the only part of MO that I'm attached to is our old neighborhood, and that area is covered with too much concrete these days. I just want my ashes to be scattered someplace where it's green and shady, so they can hurry along to the "dust to dust" part of things.

    Janet, I think the nightgown-burial thing must have been around for a long time. In all the pre-Twilight-series vampire movies, all the female vampires wore long, flowing nightgowns.

    I love that your dad was buried in his favorite slippers. That was a wonderful last gesture of kindness to him.

    Considering inflation, if I live beyond the "average life expectancy," my life insurance will probably barely cover the expenses, possibly with enough left over for my kids to eat out after the memorial ceremony (as long as they don't go someplace fancy).

  8. Linda, I saw your comment about being scattered with your dogs ashes and had to come tell you this.

    Recently, my bother in law was reading the paper and noticed that a woman who was once really close to he and my sister had died from cancer. Her services were going on as he read! He and Sis got dressed and dashed to the funeral home. They were closing the casket! My sister was most upset. She went to the funeral director and explained to him that she KNEW her friend wanted to be buried with her dogs' ashes but with all the turmoil in the friend's life recently (illness, divorce, moving), my sister was afraid this last wish had been overlooked. The director opened the casket so my sister could see inside. There surrounding her friend's head and lined all in her arms were 13 (!!!!) cans of ashes of her beloved pets!

  9. Oh, Holly, that makes me all weepy! What a beautiful story.


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